Reading between the unemployment lines | @guardianletters

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, hails the record rise in jobs as the "most encouraging of all" (Report, 6 March), alongside the plunging fall in the unemployment rate. But it pays to look behind the figures and the hype. It has long been recognised that falling household incomes, 6% down in real terms since the crash and still falling, are forcing a great many older workers to come out of retirement and forcing many young workers to take any job going on minimum pay and usually zero-hours contracts; and 90% of these very low pay and insecure jobs are only available around London. This is certainly not a sign of strong economic growth, especially when business investment still remains 20% below 2008 levels.

But there is another factor which suggests caution about the continual puff about the recovery. There has been widespread puzzlement about the dramatic fall in the unemployment figures in recent months from 7.8% to 7.1%, which even forced Mark Carney to revise his "forward guidance". This enigma can now be explained. The government has been excluding from the claimant count all those who have been sanctioned, that is those who have had their JSA removed, even for the most petty infringement like being five minutes late for a job interview. More than 1 million people have been sanctioned, and the total is accelerating monthly. That is 3% or more of the workforce and if they were all included, as they should be as they clearly are seeking work, the unemployment rate would be nearer 8% than 7%. Mrs Thatcher sought to conceal how high unemployment had climbed in the 1980s by reclassifying hundreds of thousands as disabled, from which ironically Atos has been used to declare they are nearly all fit for work to cut expenditure. It now seems today's government has hit upon another dishonest wheeze to massage the unemployment figures out of all connection with reality.

Michael Meacher MP

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